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Independent Power Providers

Don Loweburg

©1995 Don Loweburg

The California PV for Utilities (PV4U) group has recycled itself into the California PV Collaborative. It has also expanded its commercialization efforts to embrace all potential PV markets. The Collaborative will continue to work closely with utilities but now will also work toward developing other market areas. These will include residential end users, institutional users, (California State facilities for example) and commercial applications such as communication services. Work groups have been formed to address both barriers and incentives to the further commercialization of PV. Sub groups are focussing on financing, technical standards, installation standards, public relations and information, rate based incentives, and net metering.

It's the Law

The California net metering law goes into effect January 1, 1996. There are details of implementation that remain to be worked out. Many questions remain about installation requirements and homeowner's responsibilities. IPP and the Collaborative will be fully engaged in these details to make sure they in no way obstruct the clear intention of the law.

Getting the Dough

We need more information from other areas on how people are financing PV homes. How is it happening? Home Power readers can help provide this important information by telling your success stories. In California, the Bank of Willits and others have been making loans on PV homes. IPP wants to build a database of financing information. Please share, this is very important information. Our industry is sort of stuck at the moment with a chicken-egg situation. Banks will loan if they know of other similar successful situations. In many parts of the country a qualified borrower will approach their local bank for financing. The bank will try to seek out comparable sales of properties (PV-powered) in the local area. If they find none the bank will not make the loan. Our goal is to have information available about successful PV lenders and borrowers for all areas of the country. This information would be made available to the banking and lending community and loan seekers. So, please contact IPP by phone, letter or e-mail. Working together makes us strong.

Muchos Gracias

Thank you to all the financial contributors to IPP. The money is very welcome. As you could guess, there is no paid staff here but we do need travel money to attend meetings both in and out of state. IPP membership continues to grow. We have over 120 members nationwide. More important than just the numbers, is the fact that our members tend to be very active and in the front lines of the PV world. This issue we thank IPP member Paul Wilkins for his efforts. Paul publishes the PV Network News, a national guide to PV distributors, manufacturers, and dealers in Santa Fe, New Mexico (see Access). He has been researching the activities of a recently formed group called the Photovoltaic Services Network (PSN).

Yet Another Utility Subsidy?

The PSN mission statement declares, "The PSN is an independent, not for profit organization of electric utilities. The original PSN members recognized a need for professional assistance in PV education and training and a forum for off-grid PV application issues. They also recognized a need for high quality packaged PV systems that meet utility standards for performance and reliability. To address these needs, several rural electric cooperatives joined together to form the PSN, an organization that makes quality PV support services and products available to all their electric utility members."

Paul poses the following questions: "Why does an organization funded by the Department of Energy want to keep the existing distributor-dealer network from selling to the utilities? Why is this organization attempting to be the middleman between manufacturers and utilities? Why does this organization want off-grid systems to be supplied by the utility, when there are local dealers, many who have been around for years developing this market?. These are the same utilities that have fought renewables for years, now they want in the remote home and pumping markets?"

Paul continues, "It seems that PV Services Network is going to manufacturers and trying to arrange bulk buys on products to resell to the utilities. They also sent a form around asking companies if they would like to supply the PSN PV water pumping or remote residential systems."

They Say

Kirk Stokes, manager of PSN, replies, "First the PSN does not intend to 'go around' existing distributors (we call them system suppliers) that provide us with high quality packaged systems at competitive prices. We intend to purchase packaged PV systems for off-grid applications (water pumping and residential initially) from qualified system suppliers. The PSN will not be a system integrator nor will it carry any inventory. The PSN will essentially be a purchasing agent on behalf of its utility members and will purchase only from system suppliers." (we assume he means not buying directly from individual component manufacturers.)

"Second, in the majority of the PSN's member utility service areas (24 of our 32 utility members are rural electric cooperatives that serve communities in 12 western states) there are no existing PV dealers! There are not PV dealers because there has been no PV market in these rural communities! However, the fact is that there are niche markets for PV within these communities and the local 'member-owned' utility can facilitate the development of that market. Also, these electric cooperatives will depend heavily on local contractors (electricians, well service technicians, etc.) that add PV to their businesses as the local market develops."

"In this capacity, I believe that the PSN is helping to create new PV market niches where none exist today by encouraging the involvement of these rural electric cooperatives and the local trade allies. The PSN and these utilities are not going to take away your early adopting consumers who may not want the local utility involved anyway. We believe that we are developing a market network to a new and broader customer base that will be happy that the local utility is involved."

We Say

IPP, like Paul, is concerned with protecting and developing the private dealer network. We are opposed to federal subsidies that aid investor owned utilities (profit making monopolies) entry into the competitive PV market. In the case of rural cooperatives (member owned utilities) we don't have the same anticompetitive issues, but we still question the role of subsidies. Do they really develop the market? When the subsidy goes, what happens? Most often the agencies close up shop, leaving a few systems in place, a few years of nice paychecks for some administrator but no dynamic market in place. IPP members have already taken risks, put their own capital and sweat on the line and have begun to develop a competitive market for PV services and systems. This dynamic market is the future for PV and renewables. When all sectors of the PV industry better realize this, the commercialization of PV will truly accelerate.

Coming Features

Next issue we plan to have some first hand reports of what Idaho Power is up to. I have said this before, but want to re-emphasize, we seek input from IPP members from all parts of the country. This is a national organization dealing with national energy policy issues. Recently the Utility Photovoltaic Group (UPVG), a national consortium of mainly investor owned utilities, announced increased interest in small scale PV applications (off-grid). They characterized this market as "significantly" bigger than had been expected. This marks a significant turn around from two years ago when off-grid was characterized as a niche market. Now the utilities admit their intentions to pursue this market in a major way. IPP objected then because PV represented a competitive alternative to utility service. Nothing has changed except that now the utilities are out front with their plans.

IPP and Solar Energy International (SEI) are planning to offer a hands on course for installers. The program would issue an IPP certificate for successful completion. Participants would be encouraged to also complete an electrical contractors program in their own state. We believe this will help develop the PV infrastructure and increase the credibility of the industry. As now planned an off-grid program will be available this coming summer


Author: Don Loweburg, IPP, PO Box 231 North Fork, CA 93643, 209 877 7080, • [email protected]

To Join IPP by E-mail: [email protected] • Phone: 209 841-7001 or 916-4753402. Write and send tax-deductible donations to: IPP, PO Box 231,North Fork, CA 93643

Other Access: Paul Wilkins, Photovoltaic Network News, 2303 Cedros Circle, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 • 505-473-1067 • [email protected]

Kirk Stokes, Photovoltaic Services Network, 165 S. Union Blvd Suite 260, Lakewood, CO 80228 • 303-980 1969

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When Karen and I were living with kerosene lamps, we went to our local public library to find out if there was a better way to light up our nights. We found nothing about small scale renewable energy.

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Solar Panel Basics

Solar Panel Basics

Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.

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